Black Hair Discrimination in the Workplace and New York’s CROWN Act

This is Jack Tuckner. I’m an employment and civil rights lawyer here to talk to you today about hair discrimination in the workplace, specifically Black hair discrimination. Employers in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey now, three states out of only 11 in the United States that ban discrimination based on natural hairstyles, worn by people of color, most often women of color who were told that their braids, cornrows any type of natural hair is unacceptable in the workplace.

This happens regularly. I recently represented a woman in New York City who was told that she has to remove her braids because they were too “urban,” believe it or not, for that employer’s so-called brand.

And that is now illegal in New York. It’s still legal under federal law, which only bans discrimination based on so-called “immutable” characteristics, such as skin color, characteristics that can’t be changed, but in New York and in an increasing number of states, it is understood that hair is an important aspect of someone’s identity, whether or not, and heritage and culture, whether or not it is so-called immutable or not.

These laws came about as a result of the Crown Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. And in New York, New York City has had a law in place for several years and New York State only since 2019, but they are both laws. So whether you work in New York City, anywhere in New York State, anywhere in Connecticut, anywhere in New Jersey, if you’re, if you feel you’re being treated differently in the workplace because of your natural hair, your employer is violating the law.

So what do you need to do? You should document–if this is happening to you–if your manager, or if a colleague is treating you differently or creating a hostile type work environment due to the way you choose to wear and style your hair, the color of your hair, whether it’s again, natural, long, braided, locs, cornrows, weaves, etc., you should document it.

So, the first thing to do is report it, in writing, to your employer, because your employer should know if they don’t already, that that is illegal race and color discrimination. Black hair is protected in these states, in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey from discriminatory, disparate, or hostile treatment. If you are, if they do not hire you cost of it, if you’re fired, they fail to promote you, or you’re demoted. Or if just people are giving you a hard time because of the way you choose to wear your hair, it is illegal discrimination. So you need to give your employer the opportunity to look into it and investigate it and correct it; if they do, if they apologize to you, and has recently happened in a case in New York City, New York State–in Westchester involving Banana Republic, where an employee reported that she was being treated differently and told to change her naturally long braided hair.

And the manager who told her to do that was fired, and they apologized to her. You’ve won the battles and the war. And then if you experience any, any kind of backlash after you complain about Black hair discrimination, it is illegal retaliation. So first, if it’s happening to you and surveys show us that apparently people of color that wear their hair in styles that make White people uncomfortable in the workplace are often told to change it, or are encouraged to, to wear a more acceptable (to White people), conventional hairstyle. That is flagrantly illegal. And so you would want to have your paper trail of complaining about it and giving your employer the opportunity to fix it in your favor. But again, remember, put it in writing, you could talk to human resources, you could talk to people and say, I don’t appreciate that, it’s none of your business, but make sure you put it in writing and then continue to put in writing when you have conversations with typically human resources about it, so that you have a tight and right paper trail, you want to have this all documented.

And then if there’s some type of adverse employee action or the hostility continues, or if you happen to be let go, and even before you’re let go, if you have questions about this, you should contact an employee rights law firm, typically in your area for advice on how to navigate these difficult discriminatory issues. Because if in fact this relationship with your employer cannot be saved, you want to be in a position to negotiate your departure as opposed to being fired. And if you are fired already because of these issues related to your hair, contact a civil rights and employment law firm such as ours, and we’ll be happy to consult with you free of charge and brainstorm with you on how we may be able to empower you and represent you against your employer for their illegal discriminatory practices.

This is Jack Tuckner with the firm of Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser. Take care.


Further Reading/Watching –

Senate Bill S6209A

John Oliver’s Segment